By ED KING
The Portland City Council wants the Portland School Committee’s Elementary Facilities Task Force (EFTF) to clarify to them and to the public exactly what is the committee’s charge and how they plan to go about fulfilling it.
At a meeting on February 27th that Mayor James Cohen labeled a ‘Winter Summit’, the City Council, the School Committee, and members of the Task Force discussed where the Task Force was at, where it had been, and where it was going.
Councilor Nick Mavodones asked for a timeline for the Task Force’s work and an explanation of what the charge of the group is.
School Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor explained that the EFTF’s job was to use a 2002 Elementary Facilities report as a working document, taking into account financial constraints, enrollment trends and educational factors, to make recommendations as to what the City’s future school system should look like.
Task Force Chair Jason Toothaker said that his group was looking at the 2002 report and had been gathering information since November.
Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is also a member of the Task Force, charged that “a lot of misinformation has been out there,” referring to news reports that he had advocated the closing of the Reiche School in the West End. Suslovic said that he was not advocating any one scenario and that the Task Force had not pre-judged or come to any conclusions about which schools might be closed. He said that “the public is confused on the criteria” which, he said, doesn’t build confidence and causes a “sense of urgency.”
Councilor Donna Carr, also a Task Force member, agreed with Suslovic that the group had made no decisions and that she was “startled to see what I’ve seen in the paper.”
West End Councilor Karen Geraghty, however, defended the accuracy of press reports, saying that they were accurate when compared to the Task Force minutes that she read. Geraghty had been surprised to learn late in January that the Reiche School, which is in her district, was being considered as a possibility for closing. She said that hundreds of her constituents were interested in what the Task Force was doing, but that it had no clarity and she had even been encouraged by some to ‘end the process.’ She said that the group ‘sounds like they know what they’re doing and what they have to do.’
Geraghty pointed out that $650 thousand has been spent on improving the Reiche campus and there were plans to do another $325 thousand in improvements starting this month. She said that a lot hinges on the work of the Task Force and she would like to see a report from them sooner rather than later. In December, Suslovic had advised a West End group that is working on a Community Design Workshop for Reiche to hold off on their work until the Task Force made its recommendations.
Suslovic also said that the Task Force wanted better data on whether closing schools was actually cost-effective. He also wanted to know how the process that is now being followed is any different than what was done before.
The Task Force was scheduled to meet again on March 1st.